Collect Yourself

“I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited.” – Jorge Luis Borges

I’ve loved this quote for ages. It’s always resonated deeply within me and I’ve always felt like he got it when he wrote this. Like, really got it. Or got me. God, does that sound too fangirl?

I’ve always been a bit of a collector. I’ve run the gambit with inanimate objects. Comics, Action figures, books, movies…but my biggest and most prized collection to date is probably other people. I know it sounds odd, and it’s not like I feel like I own anyone’s soul or anything creepy like that. I just love people.

When I was young, friends were very hard to come by for the typical fat kid reasons. Those I did have as a child were fair weather, for the most part. Nice to me when no one was looking. In 6th grade, I learned what it was to have a best friend (We’re still sisters to this day) but still it was just one person among these hundreds of mean, nasty children who wanted little to do with me for whatever reason -unless they felt like making me cry, which was quite easy.

This was par for the course until I was about 14, when I decided to perpetuate the ongoing rumor that I was some sort of witch. This began when I did a report on the Salem witch trials, and drew a wagon wheel sized pentacle on the chalk board. I came to school dressed in black after the summer of 1990. When my main tormentor made a comment, I hissed at her! Thus begun my decent into isolation, and hopefully, finally being left alone. Bleak bleak. Doom gloom.

This was the 90’s when having a nose ring and black lipstick in school was still scandalous and horrible. The tail end of the “Satanic Panic” decade fueled the fire which kept me weird that year. Eventually, my new found balls wound me up in a Quaker School, which was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. A small school full of like-minded misfits was a good start, but I was fairly damaged goods. It would take a total of four highschools to finally get me where I needed to be intellectually. Socially, I was in heaven.

I had friends! Dozens of them!  So many different personalities. So many different challenging friendships. My collection didn’t really start until I was 16, when I discovered the various genres of music I listened to had scenes. Scenes! Imagine my bliss! I changed up the jewelry but the black remained. I couldn’t walk five feet without seeing someone I knew. Unfortunately, regression was right around the corner.

Who to be seen with was very important. Which shirts to wear. Which shows to attend. Which political party to associate with. Which brand of hair dye you used, and where you bought it. Hot Topic was a curse word. (A curse word the entire scene muttered under their breath, mind you.) You hang out with that guy? I hear he’s a skinhead. You hang with this dude? I hear he’s an anarchist. Oh my god…you kissed THAT GUY? I hope no one saw you. You’re friends with her? Dude she’s the scene slut.

So this was what it was like to be on the other side of the fence. Suddenly I found myself craving the solitude I fought so hard to remove from my life. Gradually I would age and mature, still enjoying the music but not so much feeling the need to dress the part. Besides, plus size alternative wear is usually absolute shit. I slinked my way back to the suburbs like so many of us turncoats do, occasionally coming out for the really good shows between the snickers that I was no longer scene, that I was just another weekend warrior. So be it. I’ve dealt with this teasing before.

Eventually I got a job at a well known woman’s gym. The gym was notorious for it’s right wing leanings, and more than a few of my friends barked at my decision. I justified it. It was money, I was broke. My boss was awesome, but I was also thrust into a roll where my uniform had to come off. Yes, Off. The black, the nose ring, everything I kept strapped to me like a Kevlar vest of dark protection had to go. I had to wear a white T shirt. WHITE. (I also had to buy new bras for this same reason.)

There I was, thrust into the world of all female gyms that sprung up in early 2000. At first I did what I always do. Size up my audience and act accordingly. Figure out how to fit in so my time with them would be effortless. Mostly older women. Wives, divorcees, working moms, doctors, teachers…

Only they didn’t care. My tactics were needless!

They just wanted to work out for a half hour, have a pleasant conversation, and leave. Incredible. I quickly got back to my collection. We’d talk about their children, their jobs, their lives in general. They were all wonderful and supportive and liked me. When I got a second boss, who for some odd reason decided that I was her enemy/project, they supported me then as well. The whole time I was collecting. Learning. They didn’t have to like the same things I liked or feel the same way I did.    They didn’t have to believe in the same religion, or political affiliation, or social issues. We didn’t really go there. I was too busy learning to hear opposing viewpoints. To listen to them. My collection got a bit eclectic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I tried embracing difference. Staying judgement. It worked, and it felt great. It was like I had 150 aunts, sisters, and moms.

Eventually the gym closed, and I pretty much lost them all. I still have a big pile of notes and cards that I don’t want to get rid of. Thanks for being who you are, ladies. If any of you read this, I wish nothing but wonderful things for all of you. The care you had and the lessons you taught were indispensable.

So nowadays I have my core collection. All different, all amazing. We have mostly the same fundamental beliefs. I think it’s normal to gravitate to what you know, but I can’t imagine myself now without embracing what I didn’t.

The collection started out being about how many people I knew, who they were, and where it could take me. It ended up being about them changing me fundamentally as a human being. Even those that put me down, put me here.

We spend so much time trying to be individuals. Finding ourselves. Buying books by people we think have it all figured out. Meanwhile, it’s usually as plain as who you’re having a nice cup of coffee with.

Carl Sagan once said we are made of star stuff. We’re also made of people stuff. It’s not atomic or anything, but most of us, good or bad, are the sum total of everyone we have ever met. So maybe it’s not so bad to be a little bit like everybody else.

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2 thoughts on “Collect Yourself

  1. I love reading what you write. I was there; I lived parts of these events with you, and I’m always interested to see what it looks like from your eyes. And love the quote. Stealing it. 😉

  2. This is incredibly well stated. We do seem to be the sum total of who we choose to collect. I’m just so wonderfully proud of who you have become, and your friends are amazing, fabulous people. Always loved whoever you were – hey, I went through more than a little experimenting myself.

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